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Tackling the TBR [63]: November 2020

tackling the TBR

It’s once again time for my favorite feature: Tackling the TBR! There’s nothing I love more than picking out which books to read next, and this slightly organized method of reading has really amped my enjoyment to the next level. Bring on the mantras!

Read the best books first.
&
Life is too short to read books you’re not enjoying.

However you put together your TBR for the next month, the goal is to reduce the amount of obligation in reading and increase the fun.


Here’s a look at how the system works:

1. Identify the titles that take top priority in your TBR.
2. Combine them all in your own Tackling the TBR post.
3. Throughout the month pick from that pile as the mood strikes you.

Here’s what mine looks like:

November 2020 TBR Tackler Shelf:

I’m a little late posting this month, and I didn’t even realize it until yesterday… a lot going on in November I guess. In any case, I’m thrilled at my lineup – Dawnshard, which is a novella between Oathbringer and Rhythm of War, the massive tome that is RoW, and Abercrombie’s First Law world. Velocity Weapon is more or less a review copy, and I’ve already read it (3/5 stars). In some ways, it’s a quiet month of reading because I have such a narrow focus of books. In others, it’s the best reading month of the year because I’ve been prepping for the new Sanderson for so long (and I know it wont disappoint)!


Have a great month in reading!

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Last Argument of Kings

Author: Joe Abercrombie

Series: First Law #3

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: The end is coming. Logen Ninefingers might only have one more fight in him but it’s going to be a big one. Battle rages across the North, the King of the Northmen still stands firm, and there’s only one man who can stop him. His oldest friend, and his oldest enemy. It’s past time for the Bloody-Nine to come home. With too many masters and too little time, Superior Glokta is fighting a different kind of war. A secret struggle in which no one is safe, and no one can be trusted. His days with a sword are far behind him. It’s a good thing blackmail, threats and torture still work well enough. Jezal dan Luthar has decided that winning glory is far too painful, and turned his back on soldiering for a simple life with the woman he loves. But love can be painful too, and glory has a nasty habit of creeping up on a man when he least expects it. While the King of the Union lies on his deathbead, the peasants revolt and the nobles scramble to steal his crown. No one believes that the shadow of war is falling across the very heart of the Union. The First of the Magi has a plan to save the world, as he always does. But there are risks. There is no risk more terrible, after all, than to break the First Law… -Goodreads

The Review:

This was easily the best one yet!

And I kind of ruined the experience for myself. By not planning ahead well enough to actually get through my library hold before it was due back, I had to stop part way though and wait three months to get it again… I swear I should’ve just bought it then and there, but I’m stubborn). In any case, the fact that I was interrupted right in the middle of all the action and still managed to be just as invested several months later is a testament to how good it was.

The brilliance of this series is in the characters. They’re not just flawed. Oh no, they all, each and every one of them, go beyond just merely flawed into completely f#cked up territory… and that’s why they’re so fascinating. Even Logan, who many highlight as their favorite character, has some deep psychological issues. By far, my favorite character is Sand dan Glokta. I’ve said it before, but I’ll continue to torture you with repetition – I’m in constant awe how a character who, on paper, should be considered completely deplorable manages to not only delight me, but have me rooting for him the entire way. His sardonic, practical views of the world are brilliantly represented, and I find myself laughing out loud at the most inappropriate times (like during torture scenes). It’s really not funny, but at the same time it’s hysterical… Abercrombie’s ability to create such a juxtaposition of emotions within scenes is truly masterful.

I like the culmination of events in this one, and the fact that nothing went the way I was expecting it to. Another of Abercrombie’s strengths is that he doesn’t stick to the formulaic storytelling prominent in the genre. This series is a unique creation told in its unique way, and I love that he stayed consistently true to his perspective through the whole thing. Although I was on the fence after the first book, these last two have convinced me beyond a doubt that this series is worth every bit of praise it gets. I wish I’d read it ages ago (I’ve owned it so long), but at least now I have several other unread Abercrombie novels to look forward to.

Recommendations: this trilogy-ender has convinced me that this series deserves its place as a fantasy genre staple. Not only does it have one of my favorite characters of all-time, it’s completely unapologetic in execution. This is not a feel-good tale. It’s dark, gritty, and violent. Yet I loved it, and I can’t wait to read on.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

The Summoning by Kelley Armstrong

Title: The Summoning

Author: Kelley Armstrong

Series: Darkest Powers #1

Genre: YA Paranormal

Rating: 4/5 stars

The Overview: Chloe Saunders used to have a relatively normal life. But now she finds herself in the middle of some really strange situations because:
~She suddenly starts seeing dead people.
~She gets locked up in a group home for unstable teens.
~The group home isn’t what it seems.

“My name is Chloe Saunders and my life will never be the same again. All I wanted was to make friends, meet boys, and keep on being ordinary. I don’t even know what that means anymore. It all started on the day that I saw my first ghost—and the ghost saw me. Now there are ghosts everywhere and they won’t leave me alone. To top it all off, I somehow got myself locked up in Lyle House, a “special home” for troubled teens. Yet the home isn’t what it seems. Don’t tell anyone, but I think there might be more to my housemates than meets the eye. The question is, whose side are they on? It’s up to me to figure out the dangerous secrets behind Lyle House… before its skeletons come back to haunt me.” –Goodreads

The Review:

Well, color me surprised, this book was great!

I’ve been such a grinch with YA over the last few years because they’re just not singing to me like they once did. A small part of that is poor title selection, but the bigger part is that I’m tired of all the repeating tropes and weak writing that gets forgiven as long as the book has a love story and a trendy theme. But hallelujah, The Summoning had some real substance and depth.

I went in with high expectations because Armstrong is an author I’ve read (Women of the Otherworld) and enjoyed (mostly… the series is hit or miss). My success rate with YAs written by adult-genred authors is much higher. But even here I was surprised at how off the beaten path the story took me.

For starters it’s dark, taking place in a group home / asylum for disturbed teens. The main character is young but seems to have a good grasp on common sense and how to take care of herself (a rarity), but still gets the benefit of the doubt for human error. Also, it contains some not so typical characters, including (gasps!) a few somewhat unattractive ones. In the spotlight!! Wow. That alone gets kudos.

And finally, what impressed me the most was how much the book creeped me out. I listen to most YA before bed to help me fall asleep (because I don’t have to pay as close attention as I’d need to for an adult fantasy), and there were a few scenes that had me staring at the dark ceiling in the middle of the night, trying to ground myself back into reality so I could sleep. Granted, I’m a total, unapologetic wimp when it comes to scary stuff (can’t do it. Nope.), so take my marveling with a grain of salt. However, it did ding my creep-o-meter a lot more than almost all of the adult urban fantasy / paranormal books I’ve read, so either it appealed to my personal scare triggers or it was just exceptionally done. Either way, for a YA, it blew expectations out of the water.

Recommendations: I’m not sure where the story is headed, so I’m still reserving final judgement, but overall this is a strong read and I recommend it to paranormal fans who are tired of the same old YA tropes. It was well written, creepy, and a totally unexpected delight of a read.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: The Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Poppy War by R.F. Kuang

Title: The Poppy War

Author: R.F. Kuang

Series: The Poppy War #1

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

The Overview: When Rin aced the Keju — the Empire-wide test to find the most talented youth to learn at the Academies — it was a shock to everyone: to the test officials, who couldn’t believe a war orphan from Rooster Province could pass without cheating; to Rin’s guardians, who believed they’d finally be able to marry her off and further their criminal enterprise; and to Rin herself, who realized she was finally free of the servitude and despair that had made up her daily existence. That she got into Sinegard — the most elite military school in Nikan — was even more surprising. But surprises aren’t always good. Because being a dark-skinned peasant girl from the south is not an easy thing at Sinegard. Targeted from the outset by rival classmates for her color, poverty, and gender, Rin discovers she possesses a lethal, unearthly power — an aptitude for the nearly-mythical art of shamanism. Exploring the depths of her gift with the help of a seemingly insane teacher and psychoactive substances, Rin learns that gods long thought dead are very much alive — and that mastering control over those powers could mean more than just surviving school. -Goodreads

The Review:

What a cool book! I’d been saving this one for a rainy day. Which in hindsight wasn’t the best idea because parts of it were downright depressing, but it sure did give me a wonderful new POV to experience.

The main character was brilliantly done. She’s exceptionally talented, but deeply flawed. Obsession ruled her life and it was clear from the start she was willing to sacrifice anything needed to get where she wanted to go. There just so much nuance of psychology to her behavior. I remember hearing about some controversy over her decisions early on in the book, and while her actions triggered a bigger response from me than usual, the shock of it was far outweighed by how well I thought her choices established character and set the framework for her short-term rationalization going forward.

I also loved the book because it contained a satisfying school setting!!! With plenty of student dynamics, tests, and learning. It somehow managed to be both a grimdark tale and a delightfully fun adventure at the same time. Through most of the book, anyway.

I’ve been reading a lot of grimdark lately, and I have to say parts of this book were among the most graphically described that I’ve ever read. I skipped a paragraph or two, and I’m usually pretty numb to graphic writing. At the time, it struck me as unnecessarily vivid, perhaps taken too far for shock-value alone. After finishing the book, however, I can grudgingly see the need for its inclusion to justify all the things that came after… I just didn’t particular enjoy experiencing it in drawn-out detail. It soured my overall experience with the story just a bit. This is a personal preference thing, but I will say it has me nervous to continue on in the series (but how can I not?!). I don’t trust this author to nurture my sensibilities, but there’s kind of a masochistic thrill in that, I suppose.

Recommendations: I knew from the first chapter this was going to be an excellent fantasy novel. And it was!! Even if it contained more graphical content than I was expecting. The squeamish be warned, and everyone else hop aboard for a brilliant newcomer(ish) to the genre.

Other books you might like:

 

By Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Dime a Demon by Devon Monk

Dime a Demon by Devon Monk

Title: Dime a Demon

Author: Devon Monk

Series: Ordinary Magic #5

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Overview: Being a cop is great. Guarding the library of arcane secrets is great. Even dealing with the monsters and gods vacationing in the little beach town of Ordinary, Oregon is great. Then the demon, Bathin, strolls into town and steals Myra’s sister’s soul. So much for great. Luckily, Myra has a plan to evict the demon and save her sister’s soul.
* Step one: shut down the portals to hell popping up in town.
* Step two: get rid of the pink know-it-all unicorn.
* Step three: don’t die while teaching Death how to be a cop.

Oh, and there’s a step four. Absolutely, positively, no matter what, do not fall in love with the handsome, charming, jerk of a demon she’s trying to kick out of town. Logically, it’s a good plan. But when it comes to Bathin, Myra’s very illogical heart has some plans of its own. -Goodreads

The Review:

I’m more than a bit disenchanted with the series.

It has a lot of good components, but just enough glaring oddities that I’m only enjoying it about half as much as I should be. It’s frustrating because the first couple of works were strong. I go into ranty detail in my review of book 3, so I won’t reiterate those issues. And while this book pulled things back closer to where we started, it came with a whole new batch of problems. Most notably: the love story.

Up to this point, the series has had a good balance between all the elements and the romance. There was just enough for some good old fashioned sexual tension, but it didn’t overwhelm all of the other really interesting happenings in Ordinary. That balance was not present in Dime a Demon. I didn’t mind the switch to a different POV (another Reed sister) because it was a good way to reinvigorate the story. However (a big however), if you’re going to make the entire focus of the novel a romance, then it had better be a good one… which this was not.

For starters, there was no real courtship. There was an attempt at courtship that always got shot down, and some flashy moments of shared chemistry, but that critical component where the characters grow closer through shared experiences and a series of meaningful moments was non-existent. It wasn’t romance, with emotion and connection, it was a purely physical connection between two horny characters (at least, that’s how it came across). It was very unsatisfying (I mean, even if it was meant to be a purely physical relationship, it needed way more tension, positive interaction, and foreplay).

Sigh… I think this is the last I’m reading for the series unless I can snag a free copy from the library for future publications. It’s not the worst I’ve read, but it has not lived up to any of my expectations and I’ve already invested way more than usual into it.

Recommendations: the #.5 novella and first book were fantastic, but the series has since taken a drastic decline. The compilation of novellas (which counted as book 4) were dazzling examples of the best the series has to offer, but then book 5 tanked again for a whole new host of reasons. The series has some truly great components, and I don’t regret the time I spent reading it, however there are a lot of series I’d recommend first.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes

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Book Review: Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson

Into the Bright Unknown by Rae Carson

Title: Into the Bright Unknown

Author: Rae Carson

Series: Goldseer Trilogy #3

Genre: YA Fantasy

Rating: 1/5 stars

The Overview: Leah is poised to have everything she ever dreamed of on the long, dangerous journey to California’s gold fields—wealth, love, the truest friends, and a home. Thanks to her magical ability to sense precious gold, Leah, her fiancé Jefferson, and her friends have claimed rich land in California Territory. But their fortune makes them a target, and when a dangerous billionaire sets out to destroy them, Leah and her friends must fight back with all of their power and talents.

Leah’s magic is continuing to strengthen and grow, but someone is on to her—someone who might have a bit of magic herself. The stakes are higher than ever as Lee and her friends hatch a daring scheme that could alter California’s history forever. -Goodreads

The Review:

I finished this book in October 2017. It’s October 2020 and I’m just now sure enough of my thoughts to write a small review.

I was very disappointed in this installment.

It didn’t add anything of value to the series. The first two books had so much substance and depth, it could’ve ended strongly at a duology. The plot here felt unnecessary and forced, as if it were written purely for the sake of publishing a third book (the main arc of the story was resolved completely in the second novel, so everything beyond that seemed contrived just to extend word count). Perhaps it added a bit of “where are they now?” but an epilogue could’ve covered the same ideas in a couple of pages had the same amount of substance.

I have the first two books prominently displayed in my library because they were awesome! I keep stalling on buying this one. I’m such a completionist, it bugs me not having the full set, but my disappointment in it was so strong, I almost think it would make me more unhappy having to designate shelf space to it. Harsh, I know. But Carson is such a good writer, I’d prefer to continue on pretending my precious duology is all she wrote for this series.

Recommendations: the first two books were top-notch – some of the best YA I’ve read to date. This third book did not add anything of value to the series. I’d recommend enjoying the first two, then pretending that everything worked out at the end of the second book. I don’t say this often, but skip this one.

Other books you might like:

by Niki Hawkes